Last week’s performance of “Dream a Little Dream” on Glee reminded me that it’s been 40 years since Cass Elliott sang that song. She had one of the most beautiful voices of the mid-1900’s, right up there with Streisand and Karen Carpenter, but she almost never makes the lists of amazing influential female singers. I’m jaded but I have to believe it’s yet another example of fatism that Cass had to deal with regularly in her short lifetime.
We’ve already discussed the ham sandwich thing but did you know that Cass repeatedly tried to get into the Mamas and the Papas but John Phillips told her that she was too fat? Eventually, he caved, inventing a story that Elliot could sing higher after being hit in the head by a magical pipe, which everyone (including Cass) went along with because the real reason was uncomfortable. We’ve all heard that bands become dysfunctional families, so I assume that the other members were skirting around Phillips’ creepy personality issues. (Remember, this is also the guy who thought it was perfectly acceptable to rape and then have “consensual” sex with his daughter for a decade)
John wanted to have a Peter, Paul and Mary-style rock-and-roll group and had no compunction of saying “Sorry, Cass, but you’re too fat” right to her face. But not in a mean way. He’d just say “Cass, I’m sorry–you’re too fat.” (From Dream a Little Dream of Me via Snopes)
Ok, as long as he wasn’t MEAN about it, even though apparently Phillips has been quoted making sizist remarks in numerous sources and apparently As it turns out, the joke was on Phillips, as their popularity rose with the inclusion of her amazing voice.
What Streisand did for Jewish girls in Brooklyn, Cass Elliot was doing for fat girls everywhere. The diet food people must have hated her the way nose surgeons are said to hate Streisand. While the Mamas and Papas were defining a lifestyle for their fans to emulate, Cass was redefining the concept of beauty among the young. (Esquire, 1969)
There’s no doubt that vocally she was the strongest member of the group, and while Cass may or may not have internalized all of the comments about her weight, she just might have been a seminal influence for the Fat Acceptance movement.
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